Remembering Toys

I am still procrastinating on that Disneyland wrap-up. (I tweaked my back a bit on one of the rides. One of the nice things about having a real office is that you can close the door and lie down for a few minutes — not that you can’t if you just have a cubical, but it reduces the amount of ribald commentary of passers-by).

On construction and “educational” toys (mostly in age-of-use order):

Lincoln Logs: Meh. They don’t stick together; you can’t do much engineering. And the roofing structures were terrible.

Wooden Blocks: Surprising lasting power. Useful with Lego.

Tinker-Toys: Better than L-Logs, and fun for making airy things that could go quite high off the floor, but ultimately not up to any kind of durable widget-making.

Thing-Maker: Plastic “goop” which you poured into molds and baked for a while in the provided oven. You could make bugs (pretty decent ones) and inferior army men. There was glow-in-the-dark goop available, which was pretty neat.

Erector sets: Pretty decent; taught me a lot about bolts and stuff. I never had any of the electric stuff (motors, etc.), so most of my constructions were pretty static. My set rusted pretty easily.

Lego: Oh, don’t get me started. My sister has a ton of this, and is ready to air-drop it on us when we decide our son is ready. Read that, when we decide that we can deal with thousands of small parts spread throughout the house.

Etch-a-Sketch: Frustrating. I was never able to reliably remember the twist directions for up/down and left/right, and most of my pictures had little “mistake tails”. Really, really wanted to be able to correct mistakes.

Spyrograph: Fun for a while, until you figure out what’s going on. As Doug Crockford said once, “Never twice the same, never once very much different.”

Loom: We had a small loom that was great fun up until the point where you had to re-thread it, whereupon my gumption usually ran out.  Took several hours to set up again.  We made yards and yards of six-inch-wide cloth, mostly decorative.
Rock tumbler: Plastic barrel that you dumped stones and various sizes of grit into; the barrel went onto a motor-powered rack that tumbled the stones for days and weeks. We still have some of the stones we made, they were quite pretty.

Estes rockets: I built a bunch of these (probably starting when I was ten). I understand there are lots of communities where you can’t fly model rockets any more. What a shame.

Microscope: My Dad’s old microscope from his college days, which he let us use from time to time.

Chemistry Set: You can still get decent sets (see United Nuclear’s site, for instance).  I made a lot of additions of my own here, some of which were probably not that wise.
Black and white photography: Did a bunch of this, first with Dad’s help, then on my own, buying film, paper and chemicals in bulk. Fun, and worth knowing how to do.  I miss 120mm film.
Electronics: Years of soldering, bread-boarding and freeing the smoke from small, expensive (to me) components.

Computers: Where everything pretty much stopped. 🙂

It’s amusing that my last “toy” (built in High School) is very nearly one of our son’s first toys.

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0 Responses to Remembering Toys

  1. neil says:

    My older brother laid claim to the Lego and Mechano sets for his child who was born six months earlier than my son. The mechano was originally my fathers stuff and had a huge amount of brass gears, connecting rods, pullies, dogs, worm gears and other moving parts. I remember having endless fun building working differentials and 6 speed transmissions for cars, tractors and bulldozers.

  2. wades says:

    That list pretty much duplicates mine, except for the loom.

    The rock tumblers available these days are cooler than the ones back in the 60s… I got one for my kid a few years back.

  3. Black-and-white 120 film is still around. You can pick up a Holga for $25, some Ilford HP5 400iso for $ per roll and you are in business.

  4. Troy says:

    Giant Tinker Toys were probably my favorite. Note the scale!

    When I was 7 I had an idea for an electric board game. One day I saw the AT&T van in our complex and asked the tech guy for some wire for my idea. He gave me a buttload of telephone wire, which would have been perfect for breadboarding but I didn’t have the follow-thru with that.

  5. Mike Souza says:

    heh. At least I recognize/had a good amount of those so I can officially feel not as young relative to your oldness. lol

  6. Grant Freese says:

    I remember Estes rockets. Those things rocked. It still always freaked me out that there were one or two of them that went up but never came down.

  7. John says:

    I loved legos. Any time I would get a new set I would immediately build it following the instructions. Then I would take it apart several days later and put it together with different sets I already had. My favorite build was at 10 when I built a pirate spaceship out of the various pirate sets and spaceship parts. Our first computer was a 386 that ran DOS. My dad built it when I was 5 years old while I watched. I learned more from that computer about computers than probably any computer since and definitely more than most kids sitting in front of computers these days. We never built Estes rockets but I had a friend whose dad was really into building rockets so we would build these 6 foot tall behemoths that you had licenses to fire off because they went so high. Then he would do the math to figure out where they landed if we couldn’t hear the beeper thing he kept inside them. Those were fun rockets.

  8. Pete says:

    Just as a wanky anal note: it’s not 120mm film… “120” roll film is 6cm on a side.

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